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All-Star Survivors Luncheon Has Really Grown Since Last Year

Posted by Matt Terl on September 29, 2009 – 4:01 pm

Last year, Chris Cooley organized a little event at Redskins Park on one of his Tuesdays off that turned into one of the best charitable events I attended all year, treating a group of breast cancer survivors to lunch, a tour of Redskins Park, and makeup kits, wigs, headscarves, jeans, and gift bags.

This year, that little event got just a bit bigger. Instead of being just Cooley, the thirty women this year were hosted by Cooley and his wife Christy, Derrick Dockery and his wife Emma, Daniel Snyder’s wife Tanya, and the wives of many other players and coaches.
“It must have been a big success for everyone in the American Cancer Society and the team,,” Cooley said, “because I really didn’t have much to do with it this year besides show up, host, enjoy myself, and have a good time with these women. Everything was donated this year. We had twenty players and coaches’ wives show up, which was awesome. Just a ton of support and help. It’s cool to see the idea I had last year turn into such a big deal.”

Cooley came up with the event after watching his mother battle breast cancer and talking to her about some of what she went through. “I knew it was hard from my mom losing her hair and all of that, so we talked about the possibilities of what the things you could to help that out,” he explained. “She said definitely wigs, hats, makeup, some jeans, and that’s all great. I think it’s all so cool and they enjoy it, but I think bigger than that is just the opportunity that these thirty women have to come and hang out with each other and talk about everything they are going through is a cool deal.”

The Dockery family also got involved in the event for personal reasons. “My wife’s mother passed away three years ago,” Derrick Dockery told me. “She was fighing for a while. I guess when we were in college she realized that she had it. My mother is a 15 year survivor too, so anything we can do to give our support, give back. My aunt passed away a year ago from cancer, so this is something that has really hit home with us. In Buffalo they had a breast cancer event where we got involved there and coming back here, and then coming back here recognizing that Chris had an event already established we just wanted to lend a hand, just to help, because this is something that we’re really passionate about.”

As the New York Times mentioned the other day, Tanya Snyder is one of the NFL’s National Spokespeople on the subject of breast cancer as well as a breast cancer survivor herself, and today provided her an opportunity to act in both of those roles.

“The greatest thing about it is it brings to the forefront a message that is very, very important to get out,” she told me. “Which is breast cancer awareness. Period. Even here, today, I’m talking to women, even reporters, that have not had mammograms. The earlier you catch something like this you will be fine. It’s just doing something and taking care of it.”

For Mrs. Snyder, the team’s participation in this kind of event — and especially the participation of players who have been affected by the disease, like Cooley and Dockery — is essential to breaking down perceptions of who breast cancer survivors are. “This has no boundaries,” she said. “It’s everybody. It’s the players, it’s me, and everybody that has experienced it. So it can happen to anybody.”

Breast cancer survivor Nita Lalla (that’s her with Cooley and Dockery at the very top of this post, and again below) reiterated Mrs. Snyder’s message; in fact, she is a living testimony to that message. “I was thirty one years old when I was diagnosed earlier this year. I have no family history, I’m pretty healthy — I’ve run three marathons. I found my lump during a self-exam and I took it to my doctor and my doctor diagnosed me on June 23rd.”
Now she’s halfway through her chemotherapy, and — at least to hear her tell it — the event today was an enormous success.

“It gives you hope,” Lalla said. “Some of the days can be pretty much a downer and some of the days are normal and pretty good days. Just like good days and bad days when you are a healty person. Except are bad days are a little worse because we’ve got everything else going on top of just being in a bad mood. This is really empowering because it brings a bunch of people together and kind of reminds you we are all fighting this battle together.”

One question I had last year was about the jeans; the purpose of the rest of the giveaways was obvious, but the jeans seemed somewhat arbitrary to me. Not to Lalla. “Going through chemo and being diagnosed with breast cancer really does affect your physical self-esteem,” she said bluntly. “And as women we are really concerned about our beauty just as regular women. Then when you toss in cancer and chemo therapy you lose your hair, a lot of women lose their boobs. So you really lose a lot of what is means to be feminine. So the jeans kind of remind you that you still look good and it is still easy to be feminine even when you either have no hair or no boobs.”

Tanya Snyder concurred. “This is about pampering and making these women feel special,” she said. “Because I just finished a year [of treatment] and if you don’t take care of the whole mind, body, and soul you are missing a part.”

(Major thanks to Intern Bryce for transcription help on this one.)

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